Title: Oral History Interview with Clifford Durr, December 29, 1974. Interview B-0017.
Interviewer: Tullos, Allen
Interviewee: Durr, Clifford
Abstract: Clifford Durr hailed from Alabama and began to practice law in the 1920s. In 1933, he went to Washington, D.C., to work for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) and became a staunch New Dealer. In 1941, he resigned from the RFC and accepted an appointment to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The interview begins with Durr's discussion of the events that led to his appointment with the FCC. Durr stresses the inner workings of a complex political network and outlines the roles of personages such as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, White House aide James Rowe, and Senator Lister Hill of Alabama. With World War II looming on the horizon, the FCC was intent upon examining the uses of radio as a communication device. Moreover, the Roosevelt administration's efforts to break corporate monopolies were reflected in the FCC's emphasis on broadcast regulation. Durr speaks at great length about the work of the FCC and covers such topics as his efforts to incorporate more educational programming into radio broadcasts, his belief that the major networks should not be allowed to monopolize the radio waves, and the various regulations the FCC sought to impose. Durr also contextualizes his experiences at the FCC by emphasizing how the burgeoning "Red hysteria" began to affect government agencies. Durr offers a detailed retelling of how the FCC refused to fire one of its employees for alleged communist activities, which led to suspicion of his own intentions and work. Around the same time, Durr's wife, Virginia Foster Durr, was also increasingly under scrutiny for her work in leftist politics, particularly with the Southern Conference for Human Welfare. In 1948, he left the FCC and briefly set up a private law practice in Washington, D.C. Durr soon established a reputation as a defender of dissenters. He briefly outlines his defense of Frank Oppenheimer and his short-lived work with the National Farmers Union in Colorado. Durr devotes the last third of the interview to a discussion of how Virginia Foster Durr and their friend Aubrey West were subpoenaed by Senator James Eastland of Mississippi during the early 1950s; his own subpoena followed shortly thereafter. Durr recalls how then-Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson worked to help them against Eastland, and he describes in lively detail the hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.